Our core curriculum in Lower School grows out of our fundamental beliefs that each child has special gifts and a unique voice, that children learn best by action and collaboration and that who our students become is as important as what they become. Our curriculum features
- Singapore Math
- Inquiry-based Science study grounded in active research, observation and analysis
- Design Thinking in the iLab
- Expeditional learning
- Columbia University Reading and Writing programs
- Experiential Spanish
- History - ancient civilizations, Renaissance and United States
- Social Studies that focus on the human experience (music, culture, language and food)
- Library Technology Center
- Studio and performing arts
Academics are balanced by our keen focus on community and character building. We want students to know that they are each vitally important and to build on that knowledge to realize that what they do collectively is vital as well. Teaching responsibility to the larger community is as simple as older students walking younger students into the building or mixed grade reading buddies, and as complex as organizing a book drive for a school library in Ghana. Children have daily experiences in service and enhancing community life. It is of no small consequence that taking social responsibility gives students a confident sense of self and helps them become leaders. They quickly learn that they are one and one of many.
In the quiet, we can think.
Our world is active, full of stimuli and loud. Sometimes it is invigorating and sometimes it hinders one's ability to concentrate. Thinking and reflection are habits that must be nurtured and practiced, so we create time and space for children to reflect in silence. At our weekly Meeting for Worship children sit in quiet and wait for the still, small voice inside them. Through this quiet reflection, they come to profound understandings about themselves, their friends, their school and their world.
Students' days are full and built around core curriculars like math, science, reading, writing workshop, and social studies. Additionally, students have special projects and units of study into which they get to delve more deeply. Here's just a sampling of these projects, all examples of our Action-Based Education:
- Celebrations of life – Part birthday party, part heritage study, kids get to celebrate their birthdays while teaching the class about their families.
- Campus exploration - Students spend time with Farmer Tim both on Westtown’s organic farm and around campus. Kids get to harvest beans and corn, feed the chickens, visit the arboretum and take walks to the lake.
- Harvest Festival - Students harvest vegetables from the garden or farm and they help make all of these delicious dishes, including homemade pots of soup. The soup is sold to the families and the proceeds are used to purchase food for the local food bank. This action is a way that even our youngest students can serve the community.
- 2nd grade reading buddies – Reading buddy time helps both established and emerging readers hone their language arts skills. It also builds bridges between age groups and re-affirms that we all have the capacity to teach as well as to learn.
- Build It - Kids have access to huge wooden blocks on the playground and to marble run components in the classroom, enabling them to imagine, design and create objects.
- I Choose – More than simply free play time, “I Choose” time empowers kids to make their own choices in the classroom, explore and experiment with materials and spaces. It’s a time for discovery and fun.
- Community – Students learn what makes a community beginning small (in the classroom) and go big (the campus). Kids visit people and places on campus to learn about the history, beauty and people who make up our community.
- Butterfly Life – Students collect Monarch caterpillars on campus, observe them as they go through stages of metamorphosis, release them, discuss their migration and, finally, plant milkweed to support them next year.
- Rainforest – Children research on then write a book about a rain forest animal. They create a “live” rainforest in the hall of Lower School and select a service project to help preserve the rain forest. They learn that this is the habitat for the butterflies and many of the birds they study during the year.
- Birds – A campus this vast is a good place for budding ornithologists! First graders observe, identify, and learn about the birds on Westtown’s campus. Each student researches a bird and together they create a field guide to campus birds.
In a sense, their curriculum follows the migratory patterns of the butterflies and birds!
- Sea Life – Second graders spend a lot of time learning about sea life. They study the coral reef, learn about how they’re being endangered, and select a service project to help save the reefs. They compare salt water habitats (coral reefs) with fresh water ones (Westtown Lake). They research sea animals, visit the Adventure Aquarium, create books and dioramas about their animals, and present them to students and parents on Sea Day.
- Arctic and Antarctica- Kids Learn about the culture, geography, and climate of the Arctic and Antarctica. They follow a musher in the Iditarod, make a board game about the Iditarod that include authentic challenges and situations encountered in the Iditarod, and share the game with third graders, Primary Circle and parents.
- Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF – This is more about taking boxes house to house. Kids learn that there are places in the world where children do not have clean water, enough food and school supplies, distribute and collect Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF boxes, and count the money.
- Space Day – A favorite in 2nd grade, Space Day allows kids to simulate astronaut training and life in space.
- Mexico – The study of Mexico encompasses culture, geography, climate, and food. They visit a Mexican restaurant, cook Mexican foods, and put their Spanish skills in practice.
- Westtown’s Habitats – Students learn about diverse habitats on Westtown’s campus and what animals live here. An emerging service project for second grade is responding to the question “How might we help Westtown’s campus?”
- Africa – The third grade study of Africa encompasses history, geography, animal life, and culture. They research African animals and create glogs (using Glogster EDU) for their reports. In the library, the online database CultureGrams introduces them to the countries of Africa, and this is followed up by map work on African nations and the concepts of hemispheres and latitude/longitude. Professional African dancers spend six weeks in an on-campus residency, helping children choreograph a performance for their parents and Lower School classmates. In art, children make their own batik cloth for their African Dance dance costumes.
- The Renaissance – Children study this period in European history and the unit culminates with a research project on a pivotal figure from the Renaissance. They produce art or an artifact that represents their subject.
- 3-D Globes Project - Children begin to learn the continents and oceans and the final project is to produce a to-scale globe.
- United States History – Students learn about American history through the lens of the pioneers, of the Native Americans and of the immigrant experience. They study the states and state capitals and present a State Fair, in which they present facts about the state they have studied.
- Lenape –Students learn about many aspect of Lenape culture, such as canoeing techniques on the lake, experiencing a vision quest, and playing traditional Native American games in the arboretum. They continue their study of Lenape life at the overnight in Cape Henlopen, DE.
- Pioneering – The study of pioneers allows students to “experience” the Oregon trail by taking on the various roles of pioneers in this week-long simulation. On Colonial Day, students dress in colonial garb, eat a lunch of foods of the time, and do traditional crafts such as candle-making.
- Immigration – Students learn about immigration to this country in a variety of ways, including interviewing immigrants about their experience. They also have an “immigration simulation” in which they experience what people went through coming through Ellis Island. The unit ends with a visit to Ellis Island.
- Cape Henlopen – On their trip to Cape Henlopen, students take their study of the water shed and sea life to the source. They seine in the waters of the Atlantic and conduct experiments on marine life. They reflect and have Meeting for Worship under the stars on the beach.
- Recycling- 4th graders are responsible for the weekly recycling for all of Lower School and this year they are engaged in a Design Thinking challenge that will streamline the sorting of materials so that some things will be recycled, while others will be neatly stored so they can be repurposed for use in the iLab.
- Agriculture –Westtown’s Farm Manager and organic agriculture expert Tim Mountz helps students learn why agriculture is a more efficient form of feeding a civilization than nomadic hunting and gathering.
- Ancient Civilizations – 5th graders study ancient Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. They learn their history, culture, and even some of the language, mastering cuneiform. They study Egyptian mythology, researching the gods and goddesses and presenting their deity’s reports in the first person.
- Camp Mason – This three-day trip to Echo Hill in Maryland is a team-building excursion. It presents kids with game challenges, and winning each challenge requires intentional and organized collaboration. Kids also learn orienteering/survival and take night hikes to test their skills. Their ultimate challenge (and the most fun!) is to climb the 50’ rock wall.
- Literature – The literature in 5th grade mirror this survival theme as they study the novel Hatchet, by Gary Paulson. They have their own survival activity on campus and they learn to build fires on the beach of Westtown’s lake using flint and steel, just as the main character does.